ART REVIEW: Adelaide International 2012: Restless

By Lucy Ahern

Sometimes it seems as if we live in a world unable to sit still. We can’t go an hour without checking Facebook, fidgeting during lectures, or cursing slow walkers.

The Adelaide International 2012: Restless is a collection exploring the “restlessness of our times” – but this show delves far beyond the realms of compulsive social networking and kids who’ve had too many red frogs.

Curator Victoria Lynn approaches Artistic Director Paul Grabowsky’s theme of ‘Heaven and Hell’ more conceptually than literally; there’s no fire, brimstone or feathers here.

“These works ask a question without necessarily answering it,” she says.

18 international artists will display their work across four local venues as part of the Adelaide Festival.

Most pieces will be housed at the Anne and Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, on UniSA’s City West campus, but venues also include the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, Contemporary Art Centre of SA and Flinders University City Gallery.

Hosting work from some of the contemporary art world’s most respected names, alongside pieces from exciting up-and-comers, Restless encompasses three galleries with multiple viewpoints.

The unifying concept creates a dialogue between pieces; an exhibition to be absorbed as a whole, instead of separate artworks.

Samstag Director Erica Green says it aims to explore “the tensions of living between the extremities of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’”, where artists expose the space we inhabit, the space in between.

Restless highlights the importance of ‘threshold experiences’ – the emotion associated with endings, transitory periods, and especially new beginnings – and emphasises examining human events universally encountered, such as Anri Sala’s break-up film Answer Me.

At times thrilling and beautiful, others painfully uncertain and even petrifying, Restless is a sensory extravaganza.

The exhibition combines a cornucopia of media, including film installation and painting, into a show that curatorial assistant and project manager Gillian Brown says audiences can “expect to connect with some, if not all of the works…to feel personally involved”.

Gillian gives us a few hints on what to expect: Indian artist N.S. Harshar, who constructs site-specific installations, will paint a mural across a wall of the gallery (one of the “unusual” requests so far, says Gillian, has been hunting for sugar cane for the piece).

Particularly exciting, she enthuses, is the inclusion of the late Nancy Spero’s installation Maypole: Take No Prisoners as the exhibition’s centrepiece.

The provocative sculpture is adapted to fit each new space with every move, and will extend through the museum’s two levels, offering a different effect from each viewpoint

With its hanging chains and disembodied heads, this political commentary literally gets in your face and will confront Adelaide audiences with images society often shies away from.

Contrasting those pieces discussing somewhat unsettling subjects, like war, torture and economic crises, are works celebrating life and beauty, such as N.S. Harshar’s mural and New Zealand photographer Lisa Reihana’s stark and magnificent Pelt series.

“It’s a contemporary art exhibition, which a lot of people can find impenetrable, but the context is really strong,” says Gillian.

“(Currently) the world is quite unsettled and our generation is really coming of age in a time when nothing can be relied on…I think it’s really something that reflects our era.”

However, Gillian believes Restless will resonate with all ages: “There is something that everybody has gone through. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’ll have gone through something that you can relate back to it.”

Among five works premiering during the Adelaide International, audiences can especially look forward to a one-night-only live performance during the Samstag exhibition opening.

Divertimento – 4 movements for voices, whistles and strings, a collaboration between Sweden’s Annika Larson and French musician and choreographer Augustin Maurs, involves 20 local musicians and performers, giving Adelaide artists an incredible opportunity to be part of a historic show.

Restless forces audiences to examine their perceptions, limits and, perhaps most importantly, current social, cultural or relationship environments.

An exhibition of this magnitude, featuring artists of such high calibre, is a rare event for our city – one not to be missed by those who wish to push their own boundaries and explore raw human experiences and emotions.

And true to form, we impatiently await it.

For more details on exhibitions, workshops and speakers occurring throughout Artists Week, visit adelaidefestival.com.au.

The exhibition at the Anne and Gordon Samstag Museum of Art runs from March 2 to April 18. Admission is free.

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